14 Jun 2012
General Manager of Zain speaks out about VAS in Africa
CEO of Zain Sudan on his thoughts about VAS & it's future in Africa.
1) Tell us a bit about yourself and your organization.
CEO of Zain South Sudan, the leading mobile operator in the country and emerging market in the world. Zain SS is independent and separate operation of the Kuwait Zain Group of telecom operators in the middle east and north Africa. The company started off as a branch of Zain Sudan before independence of South Sudan on 9th July 2011. And I have been overseeing the unique challenge of implementing GSM network separation between North and South of Sudan; after the country divided into two and led Zain South Sudan efforts to be the first among other operators (MTN, Vivacell, Sudani, Gemtel) to launch the South Sudan new country’s code of +211 on 30th September 2011. My career spans more than fifteen years of professional experience with blue chip and multinational UK firms; in financial services, capital markets, insurance, telecommunications and media domains. I have interest in convergence of media and telecom in the development of information and knowledge economy in Africa.
2) What does VAS mean to you?
To my mind, VAS is any service or product that leverages a telecom operator’s GSM network for the benefit of subscribers and giving them more than just voice and SMS or access to Internet on their handset and mobile devices. To borrow a leaf from the PC world, we have seen how proliferation and adoption of PCs made it possible to innovate new products and services in various industry sectors to satisfy customer needs and demands. Mobile computing extends that model to a mobile handset to deliver products and services to users and subscribers ‘everywhere there is a mobile network’. Mobile money is typical of value added services that leverage existing GSM network and there are infinite applications that can be developed and deployed on mobile devices as happened on the ubiquitous computing on Pcs.
3) How would you describe the growth of Value Added Services in Africa over the past year?
There is a growing penetration of mobile phones in Africa as demonstrated by the success of M-Pesa in Kenya, with over 16 million registered users of M-Pesa, and growing number of agents which creates more employment in the continent. I have recently come across many start up companies by young entrepreneurs in the East Africa region, particularly in Kenya and Uganda, that have awakened up to real market opportunities for value added services in the region, and many of these new products and services targeted mobile devices and their users across different segments in the financial services, utilities, games, entertainment and agricultural sectors. There are no less than 30 VAS applications today in Kenya and Uganda that offer innovative products and services ranging from mobile payment services, to location based services such as Mafuto app in Uganda used by drivers to compare fuel prices across 400 service stations. The trend has been set, last and this year has seen an increase in the number of new start ups as well new VAS applications adoption in the VAS market such as; mfarm, mTracker, EasyOrder, mVerified, Tough Jungle, and many countless others to mention. Mobile penetration growth in Africa will continue to spur development of VAS, perhaps more than it is in the developed world.
4) What do you think has been a major change in the nature of value added services in the past year?
I think that the major change has been that VAS has started to assume a global dimension and market beyond the local and emerging markets for VAS in Africa, and this is driven by the adoption of smart phones which open up opportunities for developers to target a global rather than just a local market for their products and services. Furthermore, diversification of VAS is increasing, and there is more portability of PC apps to smart devices in almost all categories:
5) How important do you think cost-efficiency is for the delivery of VAS and why?
Cost-efficiency is critical and very important indeed for delivery of VAS, and if the cost of innovation is high (new product development, marketing, and servicing etc are high), then customers and subscribers’ adoption of VAS would be inhibited by high prices from vendors who want to recover their costs from sales. Furthermore, 3G and LTE networks are not wide spread in the continent which limits available cost-effective bandwidths for rich VAS applications on smartphones and low end handsets for the mass market in Africa (base of the pyramid).
6) Who do you think are the major players in the African market (or your region) affecting the VAS industry?
Firstly, large mobile operators, like Airtel, MTN, and Safaricom in Kenya, and Zain in South Sudan are the key players for providing the enabling environment and distribution medium for the delivery of VAS to customers. Secondly, handset suppliers and distributors (Nokia, Samsung, Huawei, ZTE, Apple, etc) and their partners such as Google Android,, play a key role together with operators in promoting mobile and handset penetration in Africa and its regions so that access to VAS applications is made possible. Thirdly, VAS developers and their innovations to meet African market needs. All these contributors play a critical role in the development of VAS industry in Africa to a larger or lesser degree on the continent.
7) What do you think are the 3 key areas VAS providers need to focus on in order to succeed in the African market?
The three key areas for VAS providers to focus on for success are; firstly understand the needs of the African market, do not focus on technology alone, but on the real needs of the customer. Secondly, focus on new product development, marketing and distribution channels to satisfy real and not imagined customer needs, in other words, VAS providers must focus on being customer-centric and focusing on what makes the customer spend on your product and not from a competitor. Thirdly success comes from a solid business model, focusing on well-defined revenue streams and managing, and optimizing the cost of doing business.
8) Which key message do you want to highlight during your participation at VAS Africa in Johannesburg later this year?
The key message to highlight is that mobile has proven potential and success stories to transform Africa, the challenge now is needed infrastructure to move Africa to the next level.
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